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Archive for the ‘Generic Rant’ Category

A new year inevitably brings with it re-evaluations of your life situation. What are you doing, what will the next 12 months hold, what possibilities for renewal, what same mistakes will be made?

My own particular existential angst these past few days has been fixated on the idea of legitimation: what does it mean to have your work or ideas legitimised by others, and what does it mean when your work isn’t? How do people creating or working outside of dominant frameworks have the strength to carry on if the value of what they are doing is not recognised? By being recognised I mean being funded or supported by an institutional body, either through a placement or a steady job, or having people put your work out (record companies, publishing houses and so forth), or have some kind of public acknowledgement of the value of what you are doing (good reviews, etc).

I’ve been thinking through these questions with the backdrop of the economic climate, which seems to be grinding to ever more spectacular halts. While the impact of the recession continues to resonate through our lives, with it comes the disappearance of work for precariously funded ventures and the cultural industries as a whole. As such, the paths for legitimised creative working become ever more slim and we have find our own alternatives, we have to create our own legitimation.

As a woman and queer who finds it hard to compromise (but is learning the value of listening to criticism and humility), I know that I have to fight hard to be a creative agent within a culture that remains, on the whole, pretty hostile to me. Likewise I know that I also have privilege which enables me to play the games easier, and which I use to my advantage as well (I can write funding applications and be middle class when I need to be).

I think the biggest tool I have at my disposal, however, is being steeped in the values of do it yourself (DIY) culture. On a daily basis it gives me such a sense of personal legitimation, the power to shape and mould my own life on my own terms. Given the current economic climate, many other creative people are also, I imagine, in the same position. Without a job that would potentially de-radicalise them by being inserted into institutional rhythms and patterns, there is the possibility of a loose, creative meandering in our own time. This time can be used to scurry and twist the reality of personal destiny with a message of our own making. What do we say outside of the hyper-speed of late capitalism? What are our desires and what will we make?

The down side of the economic situation, of course, is perpetual poverty, but at least many people are in the same boat. A benefit is that we may be forced into more public encounters to spread information. The possibilities for free and accessible education may increase as people, like me, who are simply passionate about what they know will have to organise public educational events else they will explode. If I can’t get a job in a university because there aren’t any, I’m going to create my
own forms of dissemination and encounter.

Likewise with research. If I can’t get funding for research projects, I’m just going to go ahead and do the research anyway. Well that was my revelation for this week. I need to just set up my own research schema (and obviously pick up paid work where I can) and get on with it. I desperately want to develop my skills as a researcher, in particular in the realm of history. As my PhD was in a critical theory, I didn’t exactly gain any worthwhile skills. Already I’ve learnt so much from just doing historical research in a DIY context (interviewing people, rooting through archives), and again I feel inspired daily by this ethic which never fails to give me a sense of personal power.

Maybe the recession is just giving me the chance to be ever more belligerant about doing my own thing, but in these times of despair for many it is important to realise there is hope, that we can still do what we love without being validated by anyone. It is also important to build networks, have mentors and not be isolated as you build your life in the way that you want it to be. So while this may be a lag for many, it may also be a time where we can be creative in different ways, and with a different purpose. Calamity can be fortunate sometimes.

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I just had a petition drop into my inbox, asking me to sign to protest against the criteria for measuring how academic research is being awarded funds.

To cut a long story short, one of the key frameworks that has been introduced for measuring the success of a proposal is whether or not it has an ‘impact’ on ‘users’ of that research. These may not neccessarily be other academics. While the language of ‘users’ may invoke the very worst the neoliberal academy in the UK has to offer, I think its actually quite, er, useful, to think about widening the sphere of people who can actively participate in the findings of your research.

When I was constructing a funding proposal for the ESRC this year, I actually found the notion of ‘impact’ to be a very sensible way of thinking about the usefulness of my research proposal. I had little difficulty in writing about the effect my proposed research would have on different parts of society, from secondary education to museums, archives and libraries, to more commercial sites like TV and radio. In fact, the main impetus behind this research proposal is to have an impact on varied users who will most probably not be academics. The promise to write academic journal articles was nothing but a self-indulgent whim to satisfy my intellectualism (and of course, the conditions of the grant). For me it’s all about the impact baby! Otherwise, what’s the point?

The petition’s manifesto is a little more defensive:

‘Academic excellence is the best predictor of impact in the longer term, and it is on academic excellence alone that research should be judged. ‘Users’ who are not academic experts are not fit to judge the academic excellence of research any more than employers are fit to mark student essays’.

I find this to be such a weak argument, and if listened to by the government, or whoever it is that decides what the criteria for judging research proposals is, will only re-affirm the insularity of academic research which has gone on for too long.

At least with a framework that considers impact it forces people to think how their research can be accountable to a wider audience. Academics have to offer creative strategies where knowledge produced through research can become accessible to many different people (blogs, websites, public seminars, theatre and art collaborations, and more). Surely this is a good thing, and much needed too.

I dream of a culture where there is intellectual accountability. Where there is a movement of knowledge in action between people who adjust how they receive the messages, re-package information according to their needs and understanding. Where ideas can translate into different contexts, where people don’t have to pay, lie or sneak in to sit and read in a University library.

Impact is not about dumming down. It’s about communicating to people. Knowledge is power. Distribute it.

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As I mention in a previous post, I’ve been privately reflecting on being part of the feminist, queer, DIY networks in the first decade of this century – networks that I don’t feel quite a part of now. These reflections turn to sadness when I go out to gigs. I am still to find my woman positive space where women can participate in an equal way to men.

My worry is that for all the Ladyfests my friends and I organised and attended, it has ultimately failed to create any kind of lasting impact on the music scene. Women are still consistently marginalised and tokenised within male dominated bands. If they appear on stage they are often playing a certain type of acceptable music that doesn’t rock the boat. They can perform, as long as they don’t challenge things.

At least that is what it feels like in Bristol. Living here I have been shocked at the way the various DIY/ punk scenes hold onto that precious goblet of male privilege. This happens through the exclusion/ marginalisation/ tokenism that I describe above, but also through valuing competency and skill as a main way in which bands are included in the scene or booked for gigs.
I am not saying that girls can’t play their instruments as well as boys can. What I want to draw attention to is that boys are far more likely to have the assumed confidence to pick up an instrument – that’s any instrument and any style of music because male musicianship knows no bounds – and be encouraged to play it from a young age.

Girls may not be as fortunate. Girls are bound by limitation from an early age – be they the norms of the culture that parents have internalised and are passing onto their female brood – or from the range of female musician role models that are not easily apparent to the young girl. This invisibility is mirrored on the everyday stages I see in the Bristol music scene. Where are my strong female role models defining themselves and the music they are playing? I am 28 now, but every time I go into a space that feminist politics have seemingly left untouched, I need them even more.

I am not saying anything new here. The first thing we learn about culture when we turn to it with a warped sense of sociology is that it is male dominated and that this domination is all pervasive. Great! I am sure some things have changed somewhere – but there is this everyday, bottom up and top down disempowerment that robs girls of the right to participate. It’s this horrible recurring motif. However as Edie, my collaborator, domestic wife and songwriting partner reminds me, it is our right to participate. She told me today that knowing how male dominated everything is, only makes her want to fight more. We know that we will not necessarily be heard when we perform, but we will not go away.

I should have prefaced these words with the low self-esteem i have been feeling about music and creativity. Sometimes I get so low about my right to perform/ play music/ take up space that I can barely sing or want to play guitar. I feel this acute sense of shame about what I do. I imagine my voice being rejected as disgusting by people who only have ears shaped by the norms of male cultural listening practices. I let this mould how i relate to my own creativity – that is, my life spring, my right to be alive.

I know this is melodramatic, and as someone who has read a lot of feminism, i should know better. I have had depression in my life which sometimes returns to lodge into me in ways i wish it did not. I am also super sensitive, to the spaces i move through and to responses to my ‘art’ and politics. I know that feminist queer punk is not appropriate in male dominated punk scenes, but then what does that say about that scene if it can’t handle women singing about politics?! Yes dears, patriarchy is a problem and you ain’t going to smash the nation state without smashing that as well. Get with it.

I also know that without the Ladyfest and related queer & DIY networks my band drunk granny would probably not have thrived or survived these years. We would have not had an audience to listen and care about the music we made. I think this is reflected in how we were described in Plan B as a ‘post-Ladyfest’ band, shaped by that sociality and politics, shaped by the possibility of a space where girls could perform on their own terms. Imagine that, how novel! I think the problem is those networks are not so animated now and the familiar male domination has just slotted back into place. I’m not saying that Ladyfest was perfect either, it wasn’t!

People are still organising feminist/ queer friendly events, me included. My worry is that it is always an autonomous space that exists independently and doesn’t offend or challenge male domination in either its polite or aggressive manifestations. The ground beneath everybody’s feet hasn’t changed. The ground we are walking on is still male. What are we going to do to change it?

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Or maybe i’m just getting old. It’s hard to tell, but i just don’t seem to be enjoying queer spaces anymore. When I’m in them I feel this acute sense of alienation and enclosure, that something is really missing in the events i go to that claim to be both radical and queer. This creeping sense of not-belonging struck me upon my visit to Berlin. There was a queer music festival taking place at a well known (among those networks, of course) queer space in the city. The event was well organised in a badly organised kind of way (you know anarchists, they never seem to be able to start on time), but i just couldn’t get into the flow of things. Strange really because music and queer are two things that I really love in my heart of hearts.

My main feeling is that the politics are not enough. I’m fed up of isolated queer politics that fails to connect to anything outside of the queer bubble. Like the claim to fuck gender! as a radical political act. Yes, this is all very good, but if the gender fucking is ultimately contained within the realm of titillation and performance and not connected to wider things, such as the ongoing war in Afghanistan and Iraq or just anything, then can it really claim to be radical? Is queer for queer’s sake enough anymore? Maybe the first time a person claims to fuck gender it can be – the moment exists as a personal-political revelation – but after that, questions asking why and how these actions can undo wider oppressive structures need to be posed and answered. The radical queers, and mostly here I mean the white radical queers, need to join the dots, but this might just mean evacuating the ghetto of persecution and pleasure we have created for ourselves in the name of safety (and of course, radicalism).

I admit I am cynical and saddened to the max about this stuff. I have been involved in queer, feminist and DIY organising in the UK since 2004. It has only been recently that I’ve come to appreciate that I was actually part of something big, something that people really believed in – you might even call it a social movement. The splurge of organising and connection of queers and feminists in the first decade of this century, and the passion and energy that went with it, was a powerful and significant thing to be part of. It also seems now like the party is over as familiar cracks in organising communities have appeared and split networks into non-participation, or at least different kinds of participation.

In April this year I organised the Race Privilege, Identity gathering that took place in Bristol. The gathering was meant to create a space to discuss race politics, privilege (including class and disableism) and build anti-racist strategies within queer, feminist, and diy communities. What it did was dramatically highlight the endemic racism of these communities. Many people of colour who attended experienced the very worst white dominated organising had to offer in the form of casual and explicit racism. It’s pretty well documented on the blog, so I won’t go into the details now.

I don’t think what happened in Bristol was exceptional to that space. Tensions relating to race have been existent for as long as I have been organising in the community. This of course does not make what happened there in any way acceptable. It just opens the responsibility out to other white dominated queer networks and groups who think they are not implicated in racist politics just because the gathering didn’t happen in their town.

The point is that in Bristol our UK wide radical white queer community radically failed to make the space safe for people of colour. This lack of safety I think would be true for any predominantly white queer event. The problem with the idea of a radical queer space is that it is supposed to create a safe space for queers of all genders and sexualities to frolic and be as gay as the day they were (re)born. My problem, and the reason I feel so utterly miserable these days in those kind of spaces, is that I know that white queer safety is maintained at the expense of queers of colour who I imagine (and know from the experience of Bristol and reading Race Revolt and Mimi Nguyen) don’t feel safe in those spaces. On an even more teenage angsty level, I wonder how can I feel safe when there are people in the world who are not safe – I’m thinking here of people subject to Britain’s continuing colonial wars. I can’t and I can’t have a good time.

I’m fed up of working with only part of the jigsaw. My white queer bubble bursts time and time again. I don’t care about S/M and can’t be sustained by the gossip of who is fucking (over) who in the latest badly negotiated polyamoury drama. These spaces are just not for me anymore. These spaces are not safe, and they are certainly not radical.

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Yes, welcome

Welcome to this blog.

It will provide snippets of things that knock around my head. A vessel for the energy to flow. A piece of something bigger. A building block. A place to catch the bits that seem unnecessary.

Expect ramblings about cultural theory – especially queer lesbian theory – politics, living with eczema and whatever else comes up over time.

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